A Word About The Great Brain

I want to apologize to Great Brain fans everywhere.

In my post last week about Encyclopedia Brown, I mentioned that he and Tom Dennis Fitzgerald, a.k.a The Great Brain were counterparts of sorts. Brown was the good kid, righting wrongs and helping others, while Fitzgerald was a young version of Jaimie Dimon.

In going back over the Great Brain books–which I devoured with the same voracity that I did the Encyclopedia Brown series–I was reminded that while generally being a complete and utter jerk to his peers, Tom Fitzgerald had his moments of humanity. He convinced Andy Anderson not to kill himself after Andy lost his leg to blood poisoning, for example. I don’t think that the CEO of JP Morgan Chase can say that. Dimon also never figured out how to track the Jensen brothers after they got lost in Skeleton Cave, nor did he work to get “Britches” Dotty Blake hooked on reading.

Dimon looks out for Dimon, and that’s pretty much it. As far as I can tell, he would have taken the opportunity to foreclose on the Jensen family’s house and wonder why tomboy Dotty couldn’t get a job. And Andy? Bah! Cripples should die. Oh, and there’s no way Jaime Dimon would have organized a heart-stirring funeral for Old Butch, the town stray dog. Tom did.

Tom was a recognizable ten-year old boy. None of us growing up in the 1970s had any clue what growing up in turn of the century Utah was like. But we saw enough of him in ourselves that we simultaneously rooted for him, watching carefully to see just how much crap he could get away with, and wondering why the adults let him get away with it. (They didn’t, but that’s another point.)  Tom looked out for himself but he always recognized that the world was a very big place and he commanded a very small piece of it.

For all the greed and selfishness, he was helpful when Adenville needed the assistance. He helped his Uncle Mark, the town marshal, gain the evidence needed to arrest a trio of Salt Lake City con men while they prepared to walk off with half the town’s savings.

Tom understood that he was smart, certainly smarter than the other kids in Adenville (except maybe Harold Vickers, who was 16 and studying to be a lawyer), and probably smarter than many of of the adults, but he had no empathy. To Tom, knowledge was the key to taking what other kids had without getting in trouble for it. As his younger brother J.D. described it, “Tom never swindled people. He always arranged things so that they swindled themselves.”

For years, it worked like a charm. Tom got Parley Benson’s air repeating rifle by betting him that he could magnetize wood . . . then presenting Parley with a boomerang and pointing a magnet at it. He took all of Basil Kokovinis’s money in exchange for some old toys after convincing Basil’s father that having the right stuff in one’s pocket was what being an American boy meant. Most importantly, Tom refused to part with ten cents’ fare for a raft ride and nearly killed himself, Jimmy Peterson, and Howard Kay during a flood.

Tom was even capable of pure evil. After the new teacher in town became a little too free with the paddle, Tom conspired with four other kids and J.D. to convince the town that the man was a drunken sot. Justified or not, false witness is criminal. There’s a commandment forbidding it and everything.

Even when he meant well, Tom just didn’t know when enough was enough. When his five year old adopted brother wanted to run away, Tom figured some reverse psychology was in order, packed the kid a lunch, and sent him on his way, telling him how to leave town.

Finally, Tom recognized limits to his abilities. Tom’s father, as the only man in town who’d been to college and the publisher of the local newspaper, was unquestionably The Smartest  Man In Town. Tom frequently disobeyed his dad, but wanted so badly to be like him that he decided to start his own newspaper. Tom’s story about a local bank robbery being solved went over well in Adenville. Tom’s gossip column superficially written as “Items of Local Interest”, did not. It was the only time his father told Tom that he was clearly “too young to help in any way except deliver the paper.” Tom handled the news poorly. It was a rare moment of humility for The Great Brain.

Only one thing got Tom to stop. The other kids in Adenville–the friends he’d swindled and those he hadn’t–got together and put him on trial. They did it by the book: there was a prosecution, evidence and testimony were presented. Harold Vickers, who was sixteen and wanted to be a lawyer, presided as judge. Tom defended himself (he pretty much had to, as every kid in town wanted to see him punished), and he was found guilty. Harold sentenced him to a year of the silent treatment–essentially a year of pariahdom at the hands of his peers. Tom offered to give back everything he’d stolen and reform, and the sentence was suspended.

Jaime Dimon could use a similar lesson. If the President  ever appoints an SEC Chairman who believes in enforcing the law, he might just get one.

Bottom line: Tom Dennis Fitzgerald might have been a little creep, but he was ten and he really was smarter than most of the people around him. I hope he didn’t grow up to be a billionaire scumbag like Dimon. I hope that he learned to use his mutant powers for good instead of evil. But then again, Tom had excellent role models in his parents, his neighbors, and his little brother.

Don’t let your brilliant son grow up to be Jaime Dimon.

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